Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Week without Daughters

Raina and Lola went to Camp Tuckaho, a Girl Scout sleep-away camp, for a week.  On the hour-long drive there, we sang songs, told stories, and worried that Lola’s car sickness would strike.  (She has a puke bucket permanently stationed in every Whompton vehicle.  It’s a worthwhile investment.)  My additional set of worries were not surprising:
Will Raina and Lola make friends?
Will they have a good first experience?
Will they do what the counselors say without being obnoxious?
Will they actually use sunscreen, brush their teeth, and shower if I’m not there to nag them?
(The answers to those questions are yes, yes, yes, not really, yes, and yes.)

They had a great time swimming, hiking, catching tadpoles, playing games, doing arts and crafts, and being independent.  Both eagerly agreed to attend camp again next summer.  Excellent!

Originally, the Whompton adults planned to take an easy, leisurely week as we enjoyed our childfree days and nights.  Realistically, though, I cannot look at a block of empty time and leave it empty.  It goes against my nature as a productive human being.  So ….

We purchased new carpet for the finished downstairs and planned to have it installed during Camp Week.  We would use the child-free evening time to move all the items out of the finished area to be ready for the installation.  That was the plan, anyway.  We finished that job ahead of schedule and mostly had everything out of the living room before the girls went to camp.  (We had a rousing game of Ball Blaster Battle Ball to celebrate.  The last game of BBBB occurred back in 2004 with Andrew McDiarmid.  It was really cute to watch Eric and the girls play it together in 2015.)

So we decided to paint the downstairs too.  It wouldn’t matter if paint got on the carpet because the carpet was trash anyway, the area was clear of all other obstructions, and the kids wouldn’t bother us because they were camping.  While staring at that empty room, I realized if we didn’t do it now, it was never happening.  So we dropped the girls off at Camp Tuckaho Sunday afternoon and spent Sunday evening shopping at Home Depot and prepping the downstairs for painting.

Monday night, Eric and I attended a Diversity Awareness Partnership workshop and we ran into a former high school classmate of Eric’s and a new MICDS 8th grade parent for me. Fun!  I capped off that evening by painting a bedroom with Samantha.  Tuesday evening was a five hour endurance event of painting the downstairs living room and stairwell.  Wednesday was second coats for the living room and bedroom and lots of conversation about race and police brutality.  On Thursday, Samantha painted her bathroom.  We concentrated our painting efforts to earlier in the week because we had an event Thursday night.

We three attended the Saint Louis viewing of 3½ minutes, 10 bullets, a documentary of the shooting of 17 year-old Jordan Davis and the trial of Michael Dunn, the man who killed him for playing music loudly.  The story was tragic and heart-breaking and there was not a dry eye in the auditorium.  Jordan Davis’s parents were there with us – they are touring around the nation with the documentary – and, while they were clearly strong, they were visibly grief-stricken.  I cannot imagine the courage that’s required to grieve publicly, to watch the story of the murder of one’s son over and over again, to push forward for change in these circumstances.  His parents are heroes for ensuing that Jordan’s story was told.

On Friday, I removed painter’s tape from the walls – I learned too late only to use Scotch Blue, not any generic kind – and picked up the girls from camp.  The car was filled with camp songs and camp stories and two happy kids.  Friday night returned the battle of getting Lola in the bathtub, something we had not missed at all, I assure you.  

Friday was also the kick-off for the Michael Brown Memorial Weekend.  It has been one year since Darren Wilson killed Mike Brown, one year since Mike’s body laid in the street for 4½ hours, one year since the folks in this community said “ENOUGH!” and launched the Ferguson uprising.  Friday night, I participated in a rally filled with folks from across the nation and then joined a civil disobedience action planning session.

On Saturday morning, the carpet was delivered and installed and we marveled by how easy they made that task look.  We attended a Black Lives Matter vigil in Chesterfield and an adult birthday party.  On Sunday, we joined the nation-wide 4½ minutes of silence, attended the Black Lives Matter vigil at Ethical Society, and were inspired by Cornel West, Traci Blackmon, and Rev. Sekou at an Interfaith Rally. 

On Monday, I took the girls downtown to Christ Church Cathedral, civil disobedience headquarters for Moral Monday actions.  They watched as fifty-plus clergy began chanting “Show me what democracy looks like!  This is what democracy looks like!” and marched down to the local government building.  They met leaders and first-timers in the movement.  They marveled that so many other people were as passionate about this issue as I am.  (We talk about race and policing A LOT in the Whompton household.)  The girls and I discussed that I was participating in civil disobedience that day – that I might be arrested and placed in jail overnight, but I would be surrounded by all the people they saw right then, all these people who care like we do, good people trying to do good things.  Then I dropped the kids off with Samantha, participated in my action, was not arrested, and headed off to the Ethical Society for a Board meeting. 

In all, I anticipated that a week without daughters would be a calm and leisurely affair.  This year it was not …. And I am so grateful for it because it gave us opportunities we would have not seized otherwise.  The girls want to return to camp again next year; maybe the adults will take a vacation then!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Whompton girls love books

Did you ever imagine what attributes your kid would have that were from you, which would come from your partner, and hope, hope, hope for some in particular?  I did.  I hoped that my daughters would have Eric's calm reason, his natural intellect, and his easy-going personality.  And I wanted them to be readers, which definitely falls from the Krystal and Samantha side of the family tree.

I have worked hard to foster a love of reading.  First mission accomplished was access.  Growing up, I did not personally own many books and we went to the library not as frequently as I would have liked, so I continuously re-read books, which clearly is how I became an avid re-reader of stories.  The Whompton house is filled with children's and young adult books.  Each girl's bedroom has a full bookcase, in addition to a bookcase in the dining room and multiple in the basement.  We hit the public library once a week and the girls load up and resupply.  Access is so important, and we're lucky to have the financial means both to own and to store books.

Second action was modeling and positive associations.  Krystal and Samantha model reading for pleasure all year long.  Each time a kid would say, "Can we do something together?" I would counter with "Want to read a book?"  Eventually, the girls learned to come prepared with their stack of books, to plop down in a lap, and read with a parent.  Cuddling with a parent and cuddling with a story -- both sound so wonderful!

Third action was developing reading skills.  Becoming a fluent, independent reader takes many years of concentrated effort and learning.  Lola can read many books by herself now, although she prefers books with pictures as well as text.  She's currently fascinated with graphic novels and superhero stories, and she's getting lots of practice decoding words that she's not seen much before.  (Reading X-Men stories requires a different working vocabulary than Dr. Seuss.)  She's progressed tremendously this year.  The first video is from April, and she's reading Horton Hatches an Egg by Dr. Seuss; the second video is her reading The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein in May.   

Mythical Creatures Revealed

First and second-grade Raina loved reading the fairy books authored by Daisy Meadows.  Each is a 70 page chapter book which follows two girls and a ridiculously-named fairy on their given adventure.  Our collection of Daisy Meadows Fairy books is vast, and Raina bequeathed them all to Lola this week.

Today, Lola picked up Sophia the Snow Swan Fairy (I'm serious, that's the actual title) and gave it a go.  In the opening pages, the author recaps previous adventures.  "This week, they were helping the Magical Animal Fairies find their lost animals because Jack Frost had stolen them.  The girls had already helped the fairies find a young dragon, a magic black cat, a phoenix, and a seahorse ... but there were still three animals left to return to Fairyland."  

Lola stopped reading and jumped into her questions.  "What's a phoenix?  How would you rescue one if it's on fire?  Aren't dragons dangerous?  Wait, are dragons even real?  Aren't they mythical creatures?"  (I was excited about her word choice -- we had seen a mythical creatures exhibit earlier in the summer.)  I assured her that phoenixes and dragons are not and were not real, as best as we know, so they are mythical creatures.  Dinosaurs were real -- we have plenty of evidence for them -- so they are not mythical.  She seemed satisfied with this explanation and kept on reading.  I went back to working.  

And then she asked me if fairies were mythical creatures.  I assured her that, yes, fairies are mythical and the book she was reading was fiction.  Then her next question made me both marvel at her brain associations and curse myself for not associating as much.  "Then is the Tooth Fairy a mythical creature?"  Uh, uh, damn.  I made a non-committal sound and then she added "The Tooth Fairy must be real.  It can't be a person.  No one would trade a tooth for money!"  

That was a close call.  Her reasoned skepticism kept her belief system intact... at least for a little while at least.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sex Ed in Unexpected Places

Raina had a 5th grade bowling party tonight, which was filled with excited kids, cosmic disco lights, and loud pop music.  The Maroon 5 song “Sugar” was playing as we left, and then it came on the radio again as we drove home.  Raina sang along and then said “I wish I knew all the words to this song.”  Admittedly, I had not listened to the words much before – Raina had to tell me the song was called “Sugar,” for instance – so I wasn’t much help.  But I listened carefully to the chorus, heard statements about “needing your love” and I suspected the closing line was “….down on me.”  I listened to the chorus and became pretty confident about that line in particular.

So I told Raina that’s what I thought the line was.  She paused, thought, and asked, “What does that mean?”

Well, there’s only one reference that makes sense here.  Clearly the song is about sex and I suspected it is about oral sex based on the wording.  (I’m not fully confident now that I’ve read the full lyrics, but it was what I thought at the time.)  So that’s what I said.

KSW: “Go down on me” is a phrase people use that means they want to have oral sex.
Raina: Uh, I know what sex is.  What does oral sex mean?
KSW: Oral sex is when a person puts his mouth on another person’s genitals.
Raina: EW, GROSS!  Why would anyone do that?
KSW: It is a little gross.  But lots of people have oral sex because it feels good.  … There are lots of ways to have sex and people should do what makes them happy.
Raina: Sometimes you ask for information and then you find out you didn’t really want the answer. 

I had to laugh -- she’s absolutely right – and then I told her this story:
When I was 5 years old or so, I loved to go out on my backyard swing set and swing, swing, swing.  About that same time, John Anderson released the song “Swingin” and I LOVED to sing this song while on the swing set.  My mom was horrified; she forbade me from singing the song, but she refused to tell me why it was bad.  I knew she thought “swingin” was bad, but “swinging” was fine -- she didn’t object to my being on the swing set – so, for the longest time, I thought she objected to the grammar.  It wasn’t until I was older and heard the word “swingin” in context that I knew exactly what the big deal was about. 

Raina found this story to be hilarious.  It is pretty funny, and it’s also rather sad.  My mom had a chance to share some information and help normalize a topic, but she clearly wasn’t ready to have her first sex talk with 5 year old Krystal. 

I don’t remember when I had my first sex talk with Raina, but it was a long time ago.  My hope is that being direct and honest with her at all times will keep our communication lines open during times when she might have questions and, also, show her that sex is not taboo.  I want to arm her with knowledge and power so that she understands what she’s getting into when she eventually becomes sexually active.  I want her to know and love her body, to know and love what her body can do, and, honestly, I don’t trust that positive messaging to come through in sex education class.  So, just like all the conservative pundits say, sex ed should start in the home.  Sex ed just starts really early in the Whompton home.  J

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Getting Married & Staying Married

At this point each year, I’m cursing Saint Louis heat and humidity and recognizing that the school year is just a few weeks away.  And then it occurs to me, “oh yeah, our anniversary is coming too.”  Eric and I celebrated year 14 of marriage this week. 

When Eric and I got engaged, his aunt Ginny gave us a “how to get prepared for marriage” book that listed out a bunch of questions for us to answer and discuss.  According to the book, disagreements about finances and children were the top reasons that folks divorce, and folks generally disagreed because they assumed their partners thought exactly the same way they did so they never initiated a conversation.  Well, avoiding divorce seemed like a good plan, so we tackled the book and its difficult questions. 

Having that first financial conversation, back when we were 22, was really hard – at least for me.  We talked about debts we had, the few assets we could claim, how we tended to spend money, how we wanted to spend money, what our savings plan was, what we wanted our savings to be, and what our parents had modeled for us.  I remember being ashamed that I was poorer than Eric and I wanted to be less-than-honest regarding my debts, but I answered truthfully.  It certainly didn’t help to hide something so important, and my debts were now our debts, so to speak.  Even so.  I understand why folks shy away from financial conversations rather than starting with them.

The conversations have gotten easier the more we’ve practiced; we’ve spent substantial time over the past 15 years discussing and revising our financial plans and priorities.  Each year we sit down and review last year’s priorities and determine whether they hold true for this upcoming year.  Some of those conversations are more heated than others, but we both have to agree on the final outcome.  We revise our budget so that it matches the new priorities.  We manage investments.  We evaluate personal, college, and retirement savings.  We plan for philanthropic giving.  And, just as important, we trust each other to stick to the plan. 

Having a plan and sticking to it have resulted in some pretty amazing feats and we’re really happy 
and privileged financially.  (We used Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method to get us going, if anyone is interested.)  I doubt we would have made much progress without prioritizing each individual goal and then consistently working together to achieve it.  Thank you “before you get married” book! 

Potential marital conflict #1 was averted by honest, upfront, and regular communication about goal setting and with deliberate follow-through.  Potential marital conflict #2 actually came to a head for us.  We had conversations about children, back in the wedding planning process; we agreed to have two kiddos and we attempted to craft a parenting plan.  (Speculating about what kind of parents we would be was even more challenging than talking about finances.  We were so young and inexperienced.)  Time passed.  We became parents at 27 and blissed out with our daughter Raina.  One year later, Eric started dropping hints about having kid #2 and I started dropping hints that I no longer wanted to have a second child. 

Eric and I rarely disagree, so being fundamentally on opposite ends of this issue for multiple years was incredibly challenging.  I understand why disagreements about children can break relationships.  Eric knew that I had to choose to have another biological child and he couldn’t respectfully force the issue because it was my body, my choice.  He felt a genuine sense of grief and loss as he gave up his dream of having two children; he was rather heartbroken and resigned about it.  And I felt terrible that I caused him such pain and sadness and that I could comfort him by changing my mind but I really didn’t want to change my mind, which resulted in more pain and sadness for him.  Ugh.  Add in new parenting struggles and it’s not hard to imagine that those two years were difficult for both of us. 

In the end, having Eric happy was more important to me than not having a second child.  He cried tears of joy when I changed my mind, when I became pregnant, when we saw the ultrasound and found out we were having another daughter, and when Lola Kai arrived.  Lola is a spectacularly wonderful person, who loves deeply and lives life fully, and I’m so glad she’s here with us.

I'm sure potential marital conflicts #3, #4, and more are in our future, but Eric and I have been together for a long time and our marriage works before we choose to make it work, by putting in the effort to partner each day.  Huzzah for communication and conversation, compromise, shared planning, trust, common interests, consistent support, gratitude, appreciation, and togetherness!